I am now hot on the trail of the story of our house. Remarkably, it appears to have been occupied continuously since 1906 by someone in the family of the original builder, until we took over in 1978. There was an owner in between, but that was just the guy who bought it to flip, after spraying Navajo White all over the wallpaper and disciplining the floors in a deep rust shag, and he ended up getting murdered in a trailer park in California. So.
But I have a family name now! Miss Jane Farrelly, plucky conqueror of tall mountains, and the never-married sister of Florence Farrelly Kraxberger! An Amazon, she was! Or if she’s anything like her younger sister Florence, a teeny tiny Amazon. Even better!
Unfortunately, the trail went cold there. I found nothing on the free genealogy sites about Miss Jane and Florence, or any Portland Farrellys. Except that Miss Jane’s obituary mentioned a funeral at St. Charles Catholic Church–at the time, about five blocks from our house–and burial in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. I wondered if I should pay her bones a visit, and checked out the cemetery website. Which led to a photo on FindAGrave of her stone, and the information that she was buried next to her brother Joseph. There were other Farrellys at rest there too. Don’t know where Florence went, but other names turned up, including a mother, Anna Agnes Boylen Farrelly, and a father.
Peter Philip Farrelly. The clueless but determined builder of our miraculously still-standing home. There you have it, Dave!
Feeding some of this information back into the genealogy sites, I discovered more siblings. Not all at once, tidily, but in dribs and drabs, with spellings and birthdates varying slightly from one record to another. By the time I unearthed the 1910 census, it had occurred to me that the father simply couldn’t remember exactly when they were all born. And left one out. And there were at least nine. Philip, Joseph, Jane, Stephen, Florence, Francis, Frances, Clair, and William. Six of them were born in Pennsylvania. The oldest was born in New Jersey in 1890, a chaste 14 months after his parents’ wedding; the youngest in Kansas in 1908. I am hereby assuming he dropped out of Mrs. Farrelly en route to Portland where Dad had been getting the house ready for the big move. Miss Jane was born in 1895, and appears as “Jennie” in the census. She was no older than 23 when she climbed Mt. Hood, stood atop, ice axe aloft, and thundered I am JANE!
I’m not sure if there were any children after William. In my research, they just kept showing up one by one, and I’m sure Mrs. Farrelly felt the same way.
Our fine local neighborhood historian, Doug Decker, once looked into the story of our 15-block plat, the Foxchase Addition. He discovered that it was filed on April 1, 1889, five months before the Farrellys got married, by a land speculator named J. Carroll McCaffrey. A Philadelphia native, he lived and traveled between Portland and Philadelphia frequently. Advertisements for lots in his new plat, located on a high ground of fields, forest, and dirt roads, began to appear in The Oregonian–and presumably back in Pennsylvania as well: “FOXCHASE: BEST BUY IN PORTLAND, $100, $5 down, $5 a month.”
Fox Chase was a fancy neighborhood of mansions in northeastern Philadelphia, and McCaffrey’s name choice was designed to entice prospective buyers. One of whom was the newlywed Mr. Peter Philip Farrelly, who purchased his Western dream. All but two of his children were born in Woodbourne, Pennsylvania–fifteen miles from Fox Chase. The hopeful Mr. Farrelly snapped up our two lots, bless his soul forever, and hove out to new territory with nothing but a dream and way too much confidence in his building skills.
Meanwhile Mr. McCaffrey, the speculator, was convicted and sent to prison after having been charged with fraud enough times he couldn’t afford a bondsman. His wife filed for divorce. When he won an appeal on a technicality, he fled back to PA, sprayed his wallpaper Navajo White, installed dark shag carpeting, and ultimately took his own life.
Why do I care? Why have I spent hours on this endeavor? We want to draw a line through our own lives. A tether to somewhere. The future is opaque, and the only thing that we know will happen for certain is something we’d rather not think about. So we throw a line and a hook into the past, hoping it snags on something. And then we hold on.